Monday, April 15, 2024

Anxiety over sudden end to PDP’s dominance in South East

BY BRIGHT JACOB

How the mighty have fallen. This expression derives from the Bible and describes the apparent reality of the People’s Democratic Party in Igboland, or more appropriately, South East Nigeria. The party, in recent elections in the zone, seems to have fallen from grace to grass and could be in dire straits even as it tries to mount resurgence while on life support.

And still reeling from the aftershock of its underwhelming performance, the PDP will have probing eyes poring over it as members scuttle back to the drawing board and look at ways of using the 2027 general elections as a springboard for their much-touted revamping of the party’s waning influence and for reclaiming their lost glory in the zone.

In what was arguably their worst performance of the PDP in the South East since the start of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the party played second fiddle to the Labour Party and the All Progressives Congress.

The PDP either lost or failed to recapture states in the zone once designated as “no-go areas” for the other political parties. Charitably, however, only the Coal City State, Enugu, is still in their possession.

Dazed by this political mischance, it remains to be seen whether the PDP has the will and the much-needed, but almost elusive, fortitude to address their baleful slide into obscurity in the South East geopolitical zone before the next general elections in 2027, as this will likely be a heck of a mission the party will have a burning desire not to undertake with levity.

Without taking anything away from the PDP, Nigerians are aware that the party has enormous potential for a political resurgence and is a proud and ambitious group whose formation in the late ‘90s says a lot about it. Members of the G18 and G34 who resisted former military Head-of-State, Sani Abacha, came together after the dictator’s death in 1998 and founded the PDP.

And even if the new party had a reasonable array of ex-military officers in its fold, it became the favourite of Southeasterners, due, in part, to Second Republic former Vice President under the late Shehu Shagari’s administration, the late Dr Alex Ekwueme, who emerged as the party’s first National Chairman.

Ekwueme was a respected politician who was beloved by most Southeasterners. So, naturally, the Igbo flocked to the side of the PDP, and during the 1999 general elections, the results reflected their position. It was a PDP tsunami in the South East. The party won majority seats in various State Houses of Assembly, the Senate, the House of Representatives and made a clean sweep of all the governorship seats in all five states in the zone.

On the flip side, the Igbo didn’t so much embrace the other two main political parties in the polls, namely, the Alliance for Democracy and the All Nigeria People’s Party, whose presidential candidate in 1999, Olu Falae, ran on a joint ticket of the parties. This was because the AD was viewed by the Igbo as a South West political party, while the ANPP had all the trappings of a Northern political party.

But like most fairy tales, trouble started for the PDP in 2003 when the All Progressives Grand Alliance was formed. The then new party boasted members like Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and Chekwas Okorie, who became the first National Chairman of APGA. In addition, the ideology of the party had a lot of influence on the Igbo and was what they yearned for at the time.

“Today, the PDP seems to have become the classic case of Humpty-Dumpty in the South East. The party, having had great falls and broken into pieces because of their change of fortune, is yet to be put together again. And its leadership will be expected to go into overdrive and lay out a fresh plan to salvage the party”

Inevitably, the PDP’s dominance and invincibility in the South-East was tested and the party was found wanting, resulting in its gradual wear and tear. Because, starting with Anambra State, the home base of APGA, a court judgment nullified the election of then-PDP Governor, Chris Ngige, in 2006, and the candidate of APGA, Peter Obi, was declared as Governor. And till now, no legitimate PDP administration has embraced the warmth of the Government House in Akwa.

Three other Southeastern states followed suit. For Abia State, a many-headed hydra comprising internal crisis and wrangling, intolerance and alleged corruption fueled the defeat of the PDP in the state, while a Supreme Court judgment and a Governor’s defection made it possible for the PDP to be kicked out in Imo and Ebonyi States, respectively.

Today, the PDP seems to have become the classic case of Humpty-Dumpty in the South East. The party, having had great falls and broken into pieces because of their change of fortune, is yet to be put together again. And its leadership will be expected to go into overdrive and lay out a fresh plan to salvage the party.

Furthermore, the Labour Party’s renaissance in the South East, courtesy of Peter Obi’s almost cult-like following, also dealt a massive blow to the PDP in the zone.

As of now, the soul of the last state in the PDP’s flaccid grip, Enugu State, is under dispute in the Election Petition Tribunal in the state. This is as the candidate of the PDP, Peter Mbah, narrowly beat his closest rival, Labour Party’s candidate, Chijioke Edeoga, by a whisker. Mbah polled 160,895 votes while Edeoga scored 157,552 votes.

Moreover, judging by the results of the February 25 presidential elections, the PDP also had an abysmally poor run. The Presidential candidate of the party, Abubakar Atiku, failed to score the highest number of votes in any of the five Southeastern states, and was at the tail end of the race after the ballots were cast. For the five States combined (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo), the PDP polled 91,203, as against the APC and LP who garnered 127,605 and 1,960,589 votes, respectively.

The party also lost multiple seats both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Even the State Houses of Assembly are no exception. In most of them, the PDP, according to stakeholders, have perched embarrassingly like a bird on the nest allotted to minority parties.

Answering questions related to why the PDP got it wrong in the South East, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, told The Point that the party “didn’t get it wrong” and that what was happening in the South East was “the nature of politics.”

Ologunagba noted that the PDP won the election in Imo State, and that the current APC governor, Hope Uzodinma, was referred to as the “Supreme Court Governor” because his legitimacy was in doubt. He also said that Imo State represents the heart of the PDP and that the giant strides made by former PDP Governors in the state were there for all to see.

As for Abia State, Ologunagba said that “internal wrangling among party members or leaders” could have contributed to the PDP losing the state. He, however, said that the people in the South East zone were predominantly PDP.

Ologunagba said, “We didn’t get it wrong (in the South East). That’s the nature of politics, and as it is, as a party, we remain focused. The PDP in the South East is almost synonymous with the PDP (at the national level). And I’ll give you some examples.

“In Imo State, the PDP won, and that’s why today, the Governor there is referred to as ‘the Supreme Court Governor.’ He came fourth in the election but by virtue of the Supreme Court’s decision, he became Governor and that is why his legitimacy has always been in doubt.

“That is why today, the Imo State people are clamouring and waiting for the PDP to take over the state again, because Imo State used to represent the heart of the PDP and the quality of life in the entire South East,” Ologunagba said.

Speaking further, he said, “Owerri used to be the centre of excellence in terms of peace, culture, business, entertainment and tourism under the PDP, and these are all in the records. It’s not what we made up…it’s there for the whole world to see. But today, Imo State is a shadow of its former self.

“In Abia, the PDP has been there, but sometimes, internal wrangling among party members or leaders could contribute to some losses. By and large, the people in the South East are predominantly, and by every standard, PDP.

“And all the notable achievements that are key, that are landmarks in the South East, are all-round PDP Governors. So, it will not be correct to describe the situation in the South East as what we did wrong…no,” he said.

In addition, Ologunagba said that in preparation for the November 11 governorship election in Imo State, the party now has “an acceptable and street-credible” candidate, Samuel Anyanwu, who has lofty antecedents as he is “a two-term local government chairman, a two-term member of the House of Assembly, a one-term member of the House of Representatives.”

Ologunagba said that the PDP was “doing exceedingly well in the South East, particularly in Imo State, and that like any “organic organisation,” the party was reviewing their processes by doing a SWOT analysis with a view to making some improvements and getting back their lost glory, as it were, in the South-East.

His words: “What you do, like any organisation worth its salt, is a SWOT analysis, and that is like a postmortem analysis. The Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and even Threats…we are considering all that. And in line with all those analyses, we are improving our processes.

“Where we need to speak to people, or a group of people, we will do that…and we have been doing that. That is why the PDP is the biggest political party in this country and the only surviving party that you can probably call a party with structure, vision and mission.

Moreover, Ologunagba said the party would look at its human relations and promote reconciliation. The PDP chieftain said this was “an ongoing process” and that “as a party, we are doing that for the whole country.”

On the other hand, the APC may have gained a foothold in the South East after former Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, and incumbent Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, abandoned their more popular parties in the region, APGA and PDP, respectively, to start separate romances with the APC. While Okorocha left in 2013, Umahi bid his old party farewell in 2020.

Although the APGA said the former Imo State governor was worse than a prodigal son after he left, Okorocha, who was trying to configure his presidential ambition and who claimed to be a founding member of the APC, said that under APGA, considered a “regional” party, the Igbo nation would continue to be on the edge in the politics of Nigeria and in the leadership struggle of the country. Hence, his exit from APGA to APC.

After Okorocha’s second term ended in 2019, the PDP did come back to power, albeit, momentarily. The candidate of the party, Emeka Ihedioha, who swooped on the Government House in Owerri, had his election nullified by the Supreme Court barely a year into his administration, and the candidate of the APC in the election, Hope Uzodinma, who initially came fourth was declared winner.

On his part, Umahi, who is a new Senator-elect, said he offered to move from the PDP as a protest against the injustice done to the South East by the PDP. He stated the South East has always supported the PDP since 1999 and that the PDP once controlled the five States in the region.

Continuing, he said it was absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the South East would never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP and that his decision to leave his former party had nothing to do with him or his presidential ambition.

However, Umahi, as well as Okorocha’s critics, had insisted that both men were “selfish” and “power-crazed”.

The true reasons for those defections, notwithstanding, they turned out to be a stimulus to the APC for making inroads into the South East. And the party which is a merger of three political parties, the Congress for Progressive Change, Action Congress of Nigeria and All Nigeria Peoples Party in 1999, and which didn’t do so well as individual units prior to 2013 when they came together.

“And thank God that the President-elect is a grassroots politician, he should encourage grassroots penetration in the South East, and then respect party members, no matter how ‘small’ they are”

Today, the APC is giving both the Labour Party and the PDP more than a run for their money. For instance, the party won 26 out of the 27 House of Assembly seats in Imo State. It also retained its two governorship seats after Umahi’s would-be successor, Francis Nwifuru, won the Ebonyi gubernatorial race.

And even though an off-season election will hold in Imo State in November, there are strong indications that Uzodinma might win re-election for a second term in office and compound the woes of the PDP, following the massive defection, last week, of PDP chieftains and federal lawmakers from Owerri zone, to the APC in Imo State.

Some of the defectors were Bede Eke, Henry Nwabuba and Ikenna Elezianya and some 3,000 of their supporters whom the PDP in a statement rubbished, insisting that the reported defection of those 3,000 members to the APC was a figment of the imagination of the ruling party and a falsehood meant to be used to hoodwink a desperate and jittery Uzodinma.

A political analyst, Kizito Okwara, while answering questions concerning the future of politics in the South East, said, “What you asked is very interesting and relevant. You know, the inauguration will soon take place and immediately after it, the rat race for 2027 in the South East and other regions will unofficially commence. And this governorship race in Imo State in November will also be very important for all parties.

“Yes, attention will soon be shifted to Imo, and surely the political history of the state will make the election there more compelling. Uzodinma of the APC has a lot to prove, the PDP also has so much to prove. Are they (the PDP) the party on ground in the state? We will be keenly observing proceedings there,” Okwara said.

Continuing, he said, “The PDP has the most work to be done in the region. From being the dominant party, they are dangerously fading away in the South East and Imo State will answer a lot of questions.

“The PDP also shot itself in the foot in the zone. They took the South East for granted. I’m also guessing that the party believed that the region was its birthright.

Nobody likes to be cheated upon, and the people are making the PDP pay for this,” he submitted.

On the emerging political might of the APC in Igboland, Okwara said, “They must not easily get carried away. It’s true they have two governorship seats (in the zone), but that can be taken away in a flash.

“And thank God that the President-elect is a grassroots politician, he should encourage grassroots penetration in the South East, and then respect party members, no matter how ‘small’ they are.

“I also hope that this news I heard about some people chasing some Igbo politicians away from the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, is not true, because the victory of APC in 2027 could depend a lot on how much Tinubu carries the zone along.

“And in contrast to what the outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari, did, keeping the zone at arm’s length for most part of his administration and didn’t entrust the Igbo with any high-profile appointment, Tinubu should be magnanimous in victory,” he added.

On Obi’s political tsunami in the region, Okwara said, “If Obi continues to sustain this momentum we witnessed during the general elections, the PDP and the APC can as well kiss goodbye to their respective comebacks in the South East in 2027. And whether the PDP can woo Obi back to their fold, is a billion naira question….but nothing is impossible in politics.”

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